’Hawks hope for better ending

One inning. One play.

That is all that separated the men’s baseball team from a berth in the College World Series last season.

Senior Jeff Donovan returns as one of the top hitters and pitchers for the Warhawks. The team has started the season strong, posting a 5-2 record. Photo by Tim Gumz

As the Warhawks walked off their home field last May after a painful 4-3 loss to UW-Stevens Point, outfielder Jeff Donovan vowed his senior season wouldn’t end like this.

“It made [the team] realize that, although we had such a good season, we kind of overlooked the flaws and chinks we had in the armor,” Donovan said.

The ’Hawks went 42-7 last year, won the WIAC regular season and tournament titles, and were ranked No. 1 in the major Division III polls at one point in the season.

But the ’Hawks were defeated by the Pointers in the regional final when the Pointers scored a run off a balk by one of the ’Hawks’ pitchers in the first inning and sacrifice bunted the winning run home in the ninth.

Donovan said it’s these types of errors the ’Hawks must correct if they are to make a run at a national title.

“The thing we’ve highlighted the most this spring is that we can’t rely just on our talent and our depth alone,” Donovan said. “We have to do all of the small things right from now on. It’s all about attention to detail.”

If UW-Whitewater’s season is going to end differently, it will have to shuffle the puzzle pieces into the right place as early as possible. Some of the change has already occurred for the ’Hawks on their trip to Florida over spring break, where they went 3-2.

The No. 8 team in the nation (D3baseball.com) has the task of replacing two first-team all-WIAC performers and both members of its middle infield.

Despite the undeniable challenges faced in finding new players to fill in the vacated spots, head coach John Vodenlich said he is excited by the direction the team is headed.

“Every year has challenges but we are the type of program where people step up,” Vodenlich said. “Winning is considered part of something we do and that level of excellence has always been here. We believe that we can win.”

If their past success is any indication, winning shouldn’t be a problem.

The team has finished first in the WIAC eight of the past 11 seasons, and has won the title outright or tied for first in the past three.

In addition to the ’Hawks’ dominance in the WIAC, 26 UW-Whitewater players have signed pro contracts since 1991. Pitcher Ben Versnick was snatched up by the Seattle Mariners in the 38th round of the MLB draft last June.

Although only one of those players has actually played in the major leagues, the program has experienced unrivaled success over the past few years.
With that success, one would assume a certain amount of pressure comes along with it.

However, Donovan said the team feels it has the same expectation year in and year out no matter what other people are saying.

“Obviously, the expectation is to win a conference championship,” Donovan said. “That is the standard every year.”
Although Donovan admitted it would be a dream to end his senior season with a national championship, he also said approaching the season one game at a time is necessary.

“We play over 40 games in a season, and we aren’t going to win them all,” Donovan said.

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